Wednesday 4 December
Labor refuses to back university cuts
In a controversial reversal, Labor has announced that it will refuse to back legislation to cut $2.3 billion from the university sector - a policy initiative from its own time in government - due to the Coalition’s failure to adopt the Gonski reforms in full. While the move has been applauded by the Greens, student groups and staff unions, Education Minister Christopher Pyne has labelled the opposition to the legislation as "deeply hypocritical". University groups are more cautious, with Universities Australia noting that the announcement was "pleasing" but that there was "a way to go"; similarly, the Innovative Research Universities highlighted that there was "a great deal of politics" yet to come. The Australian Technology Network concurs, cautioning against university funding becoming a game of political 'one-upmanship'. Commentators point to the need to fill the $2.3 billion budget hole, suggesting that cuts to universities may come through other, less evenly distributed means.
- http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-03/labor-university-education-funding-gillard-gonski/5132218 [no paywall]
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/labor-reversal-on-23bn-savings/story-fn59nlz9-1226774543152 [paywall]
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/opinion/labors-backflip-has-history/story-e6frgcko-1226774614099 [paywall]
- http://www.afr.com/p/national/abbott_government_faces_bn_budget_ulfMaLsuqE6gvrsT2h1fDK [paywall]
- http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/03/universities-spared-as-labor-joins-greens-to-block-23bn-in-cuts [no paywall]
- http://theconversation.com/now-its-an-alp-somersault-on-university-cuts-21085 [no paywall]
New Colombo Plan not in jeopardy
Indonesia's Consul-General has confirmed that the Australian government's New Colombo Plan initiative will not likely be placed in jeopardy by the recent souring of bilateral relations between the two countries due to spying revelations, which has seen Indonesia freeze cooperation on military and intelligence matters. The ambitious outward mobility scheme, which is a flagship of the government's Asia engagement strategy, will launch in four pilot destinations across the region in 2014. Meanwhile, Australian school students have fallen behind their Asian peers in mathematics performance in the latest PISA assessment from the OECD, falling out of the top 10 nations in all three subjects for the first time.
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/colombo-plan-safe-from-fallout/story-e6frgcjx-1226774476785 [paywall]
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/australian-teens-fall-behind-peers-in-vietnam-estonia-and-poland/story-e6frgcjx-1226774539160 [paywall]
- http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-03/australian-students-slipping-behind-in-maths-reading/5132526 [no paywall]
ERA survey findings
A new survey on the impact of the Excellence in Research Australia (ERA) assessment on university decision-making has found that nearly half of Australian universities surveyed said that that ERA had led to a reallocation of resources, although only a third said ERA had influenced decisions on major investments or had informed annual budgets. Similarly, while 75% of universities reported that ERA had affected recruitment decisions and 80% that it had affected their long-term planning, ERA was largely irrelevant to building partnerships with industry, with only 11% of universities reporting that it had influenced this process. ARC chief Aidan Byrne has defended ERA against criticisms that it is a "blunt:" and costly measure that leads to perverse research outcomes, highlighting the extensive review methodology and the key role of ERA in providing confidence to government and industry that investments in research provide appropriate economic and social returns. This approach is backed by the recent release of the Australian Innovation System Report 2013, which found that the quantity and quality of research has improved dramatically since 2008 largely due to ERA, with Australian publication output rising from 2.6 per cent of the world total to 3.5 per cent last year.
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/era-not-relevant-for-daily-decisions/story-e6frgcjx-1226774511197 [paywall]
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/opinion/criticism-against-era-initiative-doesnt-stand-up-to-scrutiny/story-e6frgcko-1226774584318 [paywall]
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/drive-for-excellence-delivers-in-research/story-e6frgcjx-1226769006026 [paywall]
In MOOCs news, the University of Queensland will host the world’s first specialist language MOOC, featuring more than 50 free "taster" lessons developed by 15 Queensland colleges and universities. The MOOC will not offer assessment, with the university highlighting the ongoing role of standardised tests such as IELTS and TOEFL. Entrepreneur and Monash University Chancellor Dr Alan Finkel is also dipping a toe into the MOOCs pool, announcing a new cloud-based e-learning platform for use in schools through his new venture Stile Education. Meanwhile, a study reported in Nature questions the "democratising" claims of MOOCs, noting that 83% of people who enrol in MOOCs already have a post-secondary qualification and many are young men wanting to advance their careers. In Âemerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, nearly 80 per cent of MOOC students came from the most well-educated 6 per cent of the population.
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/mooc-online-english-course-in-brisbane-pips-the-brits/story-e6frgcjx-1226774636219 [paywall]
- http://www.afr.com/p/national/education/stile_learning_in_expansion_phase_uCbzuDu3QLmZcl6lEtSFWL [paywall]
- http://www.afr.com/p/national/education/educated_men_most_likely_to_sign_yCSRfPqah97K7LixioeBIO [paywall]
Central Queensland University VC Scott Bowman has criticised the "ideological apartheid" which denigrates regional universities' expansion to metropolitan campuses as a "race to the bottom", noting that regional universities outperform many metropolitan universities in terms of quality, student support and satisfaction, graduate employability and starting salaries, and equity. He suggests that through competition in major cities, regional and metropolitan universities can contribute to a stronger and richer higher education system. Still on regionality, a Melbourne alumni expert has suggested that regional universities are in a strong position to build "new-style" alumni relations teams focused on making a practical difference to students’ experiences, compared with older universities that may be "hamstrung" by tradition.
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/regionals-can-operate-alongside-big-city-giants/story-e6frgcjx-1226774603592 [paywall]
- http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/regional-unis-free-to-create-alumni-culture/story-e6frgcjx-1226774518499 [paywall]
Murdoch senior staff restructure
Murdoch University VC Richard Higgott has defended his changes to the senior management of the University, rejecting claims of a "groundswell of antipathy" to his reform agenda and stating that the changes had been caused by "genuine churn". Staff have criticised Professor Higgott's management style as lacking transparency and genuine consultation, with staff having "change fatigue" after several years of upheaval. All but one of the university’s senior executive under previous VC John Yovich has resigned, with high-profile DVC (professional services) John Baldwin announcing that he would be returning to the UK for family and personal reasons.